'Stanta', said the road sign. We were nearly there, the weather was perfect, and the evening had not been cancelled because of possible military emergencies. Enter the Army's Stanford Training Area (Stanta) to a slight surprise - a farrier making horse shoes! Our guide for the evening, Range Warrant Officer Mez DeMeyer, soon informed us that this is because the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment were 'on holiday' here. First a loo stop, giving time to view the exhibition in the Lecture Room of former inhabitants of the area evacuated in 1942. There was Mrs Fuller, Headmistress of Stanford School with a group of children in 1936, unaware - how could they be? - of the future of their village.
Over a cattle grid and we were in the military area - on the left the impact area where live firing had finished an hour ago, on the right the dry training areas (blanks used). Our first leg-stretch stop was Frog Hill, with beautiful grand-scale scenery of Breckland of former days, sheep peacefully grazing, a scene much admired by Ipswich Society members. But how different for the Army personnel earlier in the day and again tomorrow - grenades, mortar bombs, booby traps, C130 Hercules aircraft battalion drop zone, special forces camouflaged as trees (were there any watching us?). And the sheep? They are cleared each morning by a shepherd with dogs before firing begins; of the c.18,000 sheep only about fifteen are lost to bullets each year.
Past Tottington (once a village with council houses and church still remaining) then to Bridge Carr village. But today Bridge Carr is no longer an English village; it is' Sharabak' of Afghanistan. Here we wandered into compounds, down alley ways and visited shops. The villagers, the enemy and booby traps were absent after Army training earlier in the day. but the deserted alley ways, the physical evidence of night-time training were all too real and quite frightening, but reassurance came from our guide and (incongruously) our Soames coach waiting for us further up the road. In my view our tax money is well spent to help our troops train before the life and death of the real thing.
We had our picnic tea by Buckenham Tofts Lake (or was it the Helmand River?) sharing it with the wonderful wildlife in the training area. Then to St Mary's Church, West Tofts - a Pugin restoration church well looked after by the Army. I quickly looked at the gravestones; the newest I found was 1919. But there was one from 2008 - a 76 year old, an 'original inhabitant' allowed to rest here. Was he one of the children in a Lecture Room photo?
We said farewell to two barn owls and to Warrant Officer DeMeyer who had informed us for four hours, and we returned home with a magnificent sunset. A wonderful trip - thank you Caroline.